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In rare show of emotion, Richt inspires team
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Hear Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver talk about the Cedar Creek Reservoir. The commissioners, along with the city of Gainesville, plan to discuss bringing the reservoir online to help alleviate drought in the future.
ATLANTA — Mark Richt is about as mild-mannered as they come in the football coaching profession. He never uses profanity. He rarely raises his voice. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if he’s happy or mad.

But the Georgia coach was tired of losing year after year to the Florida Gators, so he totally broke character.

The result: an Oscar-worthy performance by the Bulldogs.

Call this one the Gator Stomp.

With Richt pushing his team to celebrate excessively after its first touchdown, Georgia gained an emotional edge that never subsided Saturday. Just like that, a season that seemed lost just a few weeks ago is now filled with promise.

The Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) leaped to No. 10 — an improvement of 10 spots — in the latest Associated Press poll after a 42-30 victory over Florida. More important, they are first in the SEC East and have a legitimate shot at playing for their third league championship in six years.

Richt deserves credit for the turnaround, urging his team to play with a passion that was missing in losses to South Carolina and Tennessee and barely showed in lackluster wins over Mississippi and Vanderbilt.

When Georgia scored first on the Gators, some 70 players stormed the end zone for a raucous celebration that sent yellow flags flying all over the place.

Richt didn’t mind a bit. Heck, he was the one egging his players on.

"I told the team two weeks ago that I was going to create enthusiasm, whether they liked it or not," he said. "If they didn’t get a celebration penalty after our first touchdown, all of them would be doing early morning runs.

"I wanted to make sure we left this game with our hearts on the field."

Mission accomplished. Clearly inspired by Richt’s rare show of emotion, the Bulldogs played their best game of the season and beat the Gators for only the third time in 18 years.

"We came out and played with emotion," senior center Fernando Velasco said. "I’m not saying we haven’t been playing with emotion in the past, but there was a different feeling for this game. Everyone wanted to beat Florida, and we worked hard for two weeks to get to this point. Winning an SEC championship has always been our goal, and we’re back in it now. That’s all we wanted."

Urban Meyer wasn’t amused by Richt’s gamesmanship. In fact, the Florida coach thought a fight had broken out when he saw all those Georgia players whooping it up in the end zone.

"Well, first thing it is illegal," Meyer said. "You have to match the intensity. Basically, we were being called out."

An SEC championship seemed totally out of reach for Georgia after a 35-14 rout by Tennessee three weeks ago. At that point, Richt stopped talking about the SEC race, figuring the Bulldogs had more pressing concerns to sort out.

Now, the Bulldogs are at the head of the pack, though they still need a little help to reach the Dec. 1 championship game in Atlanta. With a tiebreaker edge on Georgia, Tennessee (5-3, 3-2) would win the East with victories in its final three SEC games, no matter what anyone else does. The Volunteers face Arkansas and Vanderbilt at home before closing the regular season at Kentucky.

Georgia must keep winning — no easy task with remaining SEC games against Auburn and Kentucky, though both are between the hedges — and hope the Vols stumble at least once along the way.

No matter what happens, the Bulldogs added another signature win to the Richt era, this one led by redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno and sophomore Matthew Stafford.

Moreno, who had to handle the bulk of the running duties because of injuries to Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin, was up to the task with 33 grueling carries for a career-best 188 yards. Stafford had an interception returned for a touchdown when he was hit on a throw from the end zone, but that was the lone blemish on his stellar performance. He threw three TD passes, including an 84-yarder to Mohamad Massaquoi and a 53-yarder to Mikey Henderson.

The Bulldogs pulled away at the end, as they should have been under the circumstances. Unlike past years, when Florida usually had an off week before this game, Georgia has two weeks to prepare for the Gators this time. They were clearly the fresher team.

"We needed some excitement," Stafford said. "We’ve been playing a little dull, I think you could say, the past couple of weeks. We wanted to show some emotion. It wasn’t forced. It was good just to let loose like that."

Then, he added a bit sheepishly, "I didn’t realize the whole team was coming out, though."

Blame the ... check that, credit the coach for that one.

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